Yup; yours truly wrote this; just published in first volume, first issue of Nova Águia, a new journal (mostly Portuguese, but my and other non-Portuguese-speaking folks' essays were left in the original alongside the translation). I had to stop myself rewriting this, again -- not too pleased with it. Anywho, here 'tis:
“This Land’s a Homeland?”
“Bush is a fascist!”
Such statements have been heard around the
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’…Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements [containing such words]…are almost always made with intent to deceive.
Of course, Orwell knew very well exactly in what fascism consists. Moreover, Orwell was a student of language and propaganda, as tough (if not tougher) on his fellow socialists as he was on those on the right. Clearly, he knew that each of those “meaningless words” had a quite precise and politically crucial meaning. What he objected to was the mindless (and mindful) debasement of language—and thus of thought. I find it hard to disagree with such an objection.
So, following Orwell, we ought to be precise about what we mean by fascism. Definitions abound. I prefer Umberto Eco’s fourteen-part attempt, which I will summarize and closely paraphrase below:
- A cult of syncretistic tradition.
- The rejection of modernism.
- A cult of action for action’s sake.
- The equation of disagreement with treason.
- An overwhelming fear of difference.
- An appeal to a frustrated, economically disadvantaged middle class. (One might say that the ever-present frustration of an exploited middle class is itself exploited by the fascist state apparatus in order to mobilize the populace against internal and external enemies.)
- A social identity based on the mystic chords of Nation and constantly besieged by internal and external plots and threats.
- A metronomic oscillation between feelings of superiority and inferiority toward all enemies, foreign and domestic.
- The notion of life as permanent warfare.
- A species of anti-intellectual mass or popular elitism, as part of the appeal to the bourgeoisie.
- Hero-worship, and elevation of the Hero to the goal of citizenhood.
- A machismo that transfers the will to power to the sexual realm, punishing all deviance from traditional roles.
- A qualitative populism, or, a monolithic General Will, interpretable only by the Leader’s mystic connection with, and through his embodiment of, that Will. Parliaments, by definition wholly corrupt and parasitic, are excluded from that mystic connection between Leader and People, and are thus superfluous.
- Newspeak as the lingua franca.
I cannot peruse this list without a vertiginous feeling, having seen my country deteriorate so openly since
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The notion of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was first introduced by a conservative Democrat, Joseph Lieberman of
Unopposed was the use of the term “homeland” to describe the
* * *
So, what’s in a word, and what’s “homeland” got to do with fascism? Quite a bit on both counts, actually. Pick a speech of Goebbels’ at random—say his famous Sportpalast speech on total war from
Fine, you say, “homeland” was used both by post-9/11 American and Nazi politicians and media figures. So what? Surely many other terms were also used by both, such as “auto” and “beer.” I grant you that, of course. Hitler was a vegetarian. So am I. Am I thus polluted by fascism? Clearly not.
To judge the matter appropriately, we must return to Eco’s list and consider the use of “homeland” against the backdrop of the political landscape of post-9/11
A cult of syncretistic tradition. Syncretism is the attempt to unite disparate, often mutually contradictory tenets within a belief system in a manner that leaves the minimal remainder of cognitive disso
The rejection of modernism. Without diving into an endless debate on just what “modernism” means, let’s instead reflect more profitably on the backlash against the increasing level of civilization in the United States since the 1960s, a backlash that is virtually u
A cult of action for action’s sake. In the name of defending the homeland, both Republicans and Democrats maintain that we must “go on the offense,” leaving pesky issues like international law—and even common sense—to limp-wristed navel-gazers. As Chomsky has so often pointed out, debate on foreign policy is limited to tactics: for example, how much scorn should we heap upon “a foreign veto” over our desire to commit aggression at whim unilaterally? Find me a difference among John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush on that score. For more on this always-present element in American life, see Richard Hofstadter’s classic book on anti-intellectualism.
The equation of disagreement with treason. For several years after 9/11, this point was too obvious to ignore. Even now, fear of invasion of the homeland reigns—and too often reins in healthy debate on non-tactical policy differences. At least in elite circles.
An overwhelming fear of difference. Fear has been nurtured like viper in the bosom of
Perhaps I may drop the italicized tags, as the elements of Eco’s definition now begin to blend into one another. Our increasingly disappearing middle class is well and truly pissed off, and who can blame them? The question is, who will they blame, especially as the economy takes a serious nose dive in 2008? Manipulators abound, but corporate power is such in this business-run society that the target will most likely not be the true culprits but some collection of Goldsteins, both here and abroad, all poised to attack “real Americans.” Unsurprisingly, these shadowy enemies, such as Al Qaida—another term ready for inclusion in Orwell’s pantheon of meaningless words—are both on the run and ready to strike; almost destroyed (how many “top Al Qaida operatives” have we caught or killed at this point?), but always arising. Ironically, American foreign policy ensures asymmetric retaliation, so there actually is some truth to this fear, but the political uses of these
As for permanent war, well, we’re in it, by all accounts, “left” and “right.” A hundred years’ war; a clash of civilizations—a permanent war against anyone not “with us.” Since the bubble of fear can only be burst by calm rational thought, such an attitude is considered treasonous. In order to test this claim, one need only bring up possible explanations, other than the innate perfidy of Al Qaida, for why 9/11 occurred at a dinner party. Of course, bereft of rational thought in a climate of constant fear, who can one turn to but Our Dear Leader? After all, his brush-clearing abilities are well-noted, and his orchestrated landings on aircraft carriers (in what I can only assume was some kind of 21st-century codpiece) and “surprise” appearances at military bases at home and abroad let us all know that Big Brother is indeed watching over the Homeland, even if he’s spending most of his time on the homestead and taking time out from playing Aragorn to rail against gay marriage. Finally, as for parasitic parliaments, the much-ballyhooed Democratic takeover of the Congress in 2006 did far less than most expected to turn the legislature into something other than a rump parliament, as any perusal of key votes on war funding, surveillance, and so forth will amply demonstrate.
And so we come to Newspeak, and thus to “homeland,” an interesting term that holds a meaning well beyond the geographical. It plays on jingoistic, even racist, notions of Blood and Soil; encourages disdain for and fear of Ausländer; prevents identification with our victims; and blinds us to our manipulation by our owners. It is unquestionably a fascist term, both in its history and in its current use in American political culture.
We now know what’s in the word “homeland.” By its political context ye shall know it. Perhaps what we will eventually need in the
* * *
Of course, things are not entirely as gloomy as all that. Some of the argumentation above is consciously forced, and thank god it is. Even with our increasingly corporatized state and disappearing liberties, we are not quite fascist yet. Which leads me, finally, back to the
Bush’s handlers have put much effort into projecting him as The Leader: to focus solely on him is in itself Leader-worship. Bush himself is not the problem. Rather, as Sejanus was told by one of his victims in the television version of I, Claudius, he is merely the putrefaction, not the plague itself. As Camus noted, the plague is in all of us. We are all proto-fascists now, and we should resist the false comfort I see spreading over the land, whether in
For we do indeed have a homeland. It is our planet, and there doesn’t seem to be another one nearly as nice within easy reach. Its hospitality is not boundless; our species is under extreme threat—from nuclear holocaust, environmental catastrophe, and emergent diseases. These are real threats, and they are really frightening. They may be insurmountable. That is no excuse for not making an attempt. In The Lion in Winter, when Geoffrey upbraids his brother Richard (later to acquire a lion’s heart at Palestine’s expense) for thinking that the way in which one fell actually matters, Richard, perhaps channeling Camus, replies, “When the fall is all there is, it matters.” An unfortunate taste for crusading aside, he had hit on a point of some general value.
So, once the noise is filtered out, the signal is clear. If we do not learn to see our species as one community made up of equals—if we, all of us, do not truly globalize those Enlightenment-era revolutions, extending the values of equality, fraternity, and liberty to their logical political and economic conclusions without exception, then the human species will prove itself unviable. And we must be honest with ourselves, if we are truly adults: even if we do achieve that seemingly utopian but nevertheless clearly necessary goal, we may still fall, and soon. The universe is not equipped to care about us.
We, however, potentially, are.
 George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in George Orwell: Essays, selected and introduced by John Carey (
 Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, “Lieberman, Specter Offer Homeland Defense Legislation[:] Proposals Will be Reviewed at Friday Hearing,” United States Senate, http://web.archive.org/web/20030709220622/http:/govt-aff.senate.gov/101101homedefpress.htm (accessed
 Office of the Press Secretary, “Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,
 THOMAS, “S. 2452: National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act of 2002” The Library of Congress, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/C?c107:./temp/~c107bh7s21 (accessed
 Department of Homeland Security, “President’s Letter,” National Strategy for Homeland Security, October 2007, The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/homeland/nshs/2007/letter.html (accessed
 For example, from the right, Peggy Noo
 Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, New Edition, (New York: Vintage, 1966).
 The White Rose was an extremely courageous group of students who tried to organize resistance against the Nazi regime. The ringleaders were caught on the same day as Goebbels’ Sportpalast speech, and later executed. But that shouldn’t unduly discourage you.